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Movie Review: Horton Hears a Who!

Horton Hears a Who

MPAA Rating: G for general audiences
Recommended for ages 3 and up.
Run Time: 88 minutes
Heads Up — Like animated candy that just happens to be good for you, whether you're big or small.

"Horton Hears a Who!" is heady stuff.

Dr. Seuss' tale of elephant Horton answering the call to protect a speck of dust that harbors the tiny world and populace of Whoville — despite his fellow jungle denizens finding him crazy, even dangerous — packs a lot of philosophical questions into a picture book.

But thinking about worlds beyond what you see or know is prime territory for the 7- or 8-years-olds who will flock to the new film adaptation of the classic.

Around that age, every kid has probably sat in class, staring at their pencil eraser, thinking, "What if miniscule little people are living there, driving little tiny cars to little tiny buildings and I'm some kind of giant and their whole universe is right here in my hand? And what does that mean about me? Am I living on a pencil eraser in some giant giant's world?"

And if they haven't had that moment yet, "Horton" is the kind of imagination adventure that will have kids asking such "What if…?" questions for days. That is, as soon as they're done crushing on Horton.

Every kid, even the shy ones who hid behind mom's legs when approached by a strange lady with a steno pad (me), said the same thing when asked, "What was your favorite thing about the movie?"

"Horton" was the refrain. They liked his jokes, his clutzy ways, his desire to save the town of Whoville even though he couldn't see its inhabitants. As in the book, big-eared Horton hears an imperiled voice wailing from a zinging speck of dust, determines it's an entire world, then vows to protect it by hooking it to a pink clover and carrying it to a sun-drenched mountain peak at the edge of the jungle.

Jim Carrey in the role of Horton is perfect: his stretchy facial expressions must have inspired the animators who created his elephant identity. As Horton's clover contact, Steve Carrell as the mayor of Whoville uses to his advantage the comedically unassuming ineptness he's honed on "The Office" (translated for an audience of tots, of course.) Of the rest of the super-talented cast, one stand-out is Carol Burnett (one of Carrey's childhood idols) as the Sour Kangaroo, her pouch in a bunch over Horton and his clover. (She doesn't like the jungle youngsters to use their imaginations.)

Some might think the movie got lucky, getting a Dr. Seuss book as a basis. But the Dr. Seuss-sourced "The Cat in the Hat" proved that even a good cast and great inspiration can't save a bad kid's movie. "Horton" works because even though Seuss' book is stretched from 64 pages to an hour-and-a-half feature, nothing feels overlong or unnecessary.

As a nice homage to the author, a narrator (Charles Osgood) weaves Seuss' orginal words with the action on screen and, wow, what a use of the screen it is — the animation feels alive with magical energy.

"Horton" is an accomplishment, to be sure: A movie where kids fall in love with the main character, are entranced by stunning visuals and leave feeling thoughtful and excited? That's pretty big, even if we are all living on some giant's pencil eraser.

Kids Will Love: Pretty much everything, it seems, with Horton at the top of their list. After our screening, kids bounded out of the theater babbling about Horton, the Whos, and the noisy finale. Surprisingly, despite the movie's many laughs, the kids in the theater were quiet, letting the adults do most of the chuckling. As one explained to me afterward about his 5-year-old friend, "She was laughing in her head." 11-year-old Aidan, next to me, turned to her friend numerous times to say, "That was funny." The movie's so visually captivating, it almost seemed the kids were taking it all in, saving their laughs for their next viewing.

Parents Will Love: Again, pretty much everything. It's a sweet deal when a kid's film makes a grown-up feel, well, like a kid again. There's lots to talk about with kids afterward, especially when they start wondering if every under-bed dust bunny contains a small universe. As for during, the adults were getting most of the giggles, many courtesy of Seth Rogen as Morton the mouse, Horton's tiny pragmatic sidekick who becomes that much more endearing thanks to Rogen's trademark gravelly-voiced sarcasm.

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